Working as a freelancer can be a very rewarding experience, but brings various challenges as well. One of the biggest issues I faced early on was learning how to manage my growing business effectively.
Fortunately, there are now lots of software tools that can help freelancers run successful businesses. No matter if you're just starting your freelancing activities, or you have been in this game for years, I hope that this guide will help you discover several platforms which have the potential to help your business thrive.
1. Project management software.
This type of software is essential for setting up new projects. More than that, it can also help you break down larger tasks into smaller, manageable chunks. Once that is done, setting deadlines and tracking progress becomes so much easier!
Project management platforms allow you to share project-related information with your clients, provide cloud-based storage space, as well as tools that help you communicate with colleagues, partners, and clients. Some of the most popular options include Trello and Basecamp.
Trello is known for its user-friendly interface and offers a free version that’s perfect for individuals and small teams, but has a limited number of templates. Basecamp is more powerful, but has a much steeper learning curve. It offers a free trial, so test them both and choose the one that works best for you.
2. A customer relationship management (CRM) platform.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software is a necessity for freelancers and business owners who want to manage their business relationship with current, new, and potential clients. Salesforce has been a popular choice among businesses for quite some time, but newer tools like Zoho CRM have also managed to gain a significant market share.
A good CRM platform will allow you to store, update, and then use information about existing and potential clients, including their contact details (address, phone number, email, etc.), past and current project details, conversations, messages, and more. By making use of a CRM, you can discover new business opportunities and automate mundane tasks, such as sending follow-up emails to clients who have forgotten to pay your invoices.
3. Office productivity tools.
Having access to an office suite, which includes at least a word processor, a spreadsheet editor, and a presentation tool, is essential. There are various office suites on the market, but my recommendation is to use Microsoft Office, specifically Office 365, due to its versatility and popularity. You don’t want to send clients contract drafts that can’t be opened on their computers. More than this, Office 365 offers its users access to new features as they become available, and can be patched automatically as soon as the bugs are discovered and fixed.
4. Graphics design software.
Being technology oriented, I am not particularly skilled in creating and editing visual content. And yet, I managed to produce several dozens of professional-looking designs without needing to hire an expensive designer.
My secret is Canva, a platform that makes it easy for anyone to create professional brochures, flyers, attractive graphics that can be used for social media posts, and much more. With over 250,000 templates to choose from, Canva allows me to create unique designs by simply replacing the existing images and text. If you are a freelancer, I guarantee that you will need to create decent looking graphics at some point, so having access to a platform similar to Canva is essential.
On the other hand, if you do graphics design for a living, you will need to use more advanced tools such as Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign.
5. A time tracking tool.
Do you track the time spent working for clients? And if your answer is negative, how can you make sure that you are billing them accordingly?
I have been using RescueTime for many years, and it is still my preferred tool in this category. By using RescueTime, you can send your clients detailed invoices which highlight the amount of work that has been done for them. Additionally, it will be very easy to evaluate the profitability of your projects.
Furthermore, a time tracking tool will help increase productivity by showing you where your time is being spent. You can also identify distractions - too much time spent on social media, for example. So, if you want to boost productivity and reduce distractions, using a time tracking tool is essential.
6. File storage/sharing platforms.
Every freelancer needs to ensure that their data is stored securely. Back in the day, this meant backing up important business data onto multiple hard drives every week or so. Nowadays, people prefer to use cloud-based storage solutions, which are much more reliable and less expensive.
Did you know that you may have access to a file storage platform for free? For example, if you have a free Gmail account, you also have access to a free Google Drive account, which includes 15 GB of storage space. It may not seem like much, but 15 GB may be enough for freelancers who are just starting out and don’t want to spend a lot of money on things they won’t need right away. However, if you have a valid Office 365 subscription, you will be happy to hear that it includes a huge 1 TB (1,000 GB) of storage space for free, which should be more than enough for most people’s needs.